London Concert Choir begins its 64th Season with choral works by two French organist-composers and contemporaries whose lives spanned most of the 20th century but who were steeped in the romantic organ tradition of the previous century.
While Maurice Duruflé was born near Rouen in Normandy and Jean Langlais in a small village in Brittany, both studied at the Paris Conservatoire and spent most of their lives in Paris. Both composers were inspired by plainsong and incorporated it into their works.
Langlais’ Messe Solennelle dates from 1951 and is unquestionably his finest piece of church music. The organ part was written for two instruments: the larger organ features angular melodies and chromatic harmonies in a dramatic dialogue with the choir, and the smaller generally doubles the vocal lines. However, the work may be played on just one organ, as in this performance. The final ‘Dona nobis Pacem’ is a fervent plea for peace.
The concert will continue with three pieces for cello and piano by the late-Romantic French master Gabriel Fauré, including an arrangement of the song ‘Après un rêve’.
Duruflé was a pupil of Fauré and shared his love of the shapes and colour of plainsong. He completed the Requiem, probably the most famous of his few compositions, in 1947. It was originally commissioned as an organ suite, but on the death of his father Duruflé chose to complete it as a Requiem Mass, based entirely on the Gregorian themes of the Mass for the Dead. He wrote that the Requiem “is not an ethereal work, but tends to translate human feelings before their terrifying, unexplainable or consoling destiny. It represents the idea of peace, of faith, and of hope”.